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The Great Mokpo Engine Heist

By Andy Bisaccia


Andy Bisaccia ca 1998

This story is revealed for the first time, since the only other person, besides myself,  who was privy to it on board the USS Whitehurst during the Korean conflict, Harry Bongiorni, is deceased. Harry and I made a pact to keep it a secret for fear of reprisal if it came to the attention of the shipís captain. Our moral rationale and youthful idealism overrode any turpitude that we might be perpetrating. 

The USS Whitehurst was summoned to Mokpo to supply power to a city that had received heavy damage to its power plant by the North Korean invaders who had been pushed back by the U.S. Marines.  

Shortly after we tied up and started to supply power, it must have come to the attention of the skipper that there was a Catholic Monastery nearby in the hills around Mokpo.  Either the skipper or executive officer, ordered me to take the jeep, which I often used to pick up guard mail and personal mail, and to proceed to the monastery to request the services of a priest to hold Mass aboard our ship on the following  Sunday. Whenever I left the ship on official duty, I armed myself with a forty-five automatic sidearm and took an armed guard with me. The selection of such person was generally left up to me. On this particular occasion, I opted to take my friend Harry Bongiorni.  

The road to the monastery was winding, bumpy, narrow, and dusty. As we pulled up to the monastery, we observed two priests removing an engine from a jeep with block and tackle hanging from a metal tripod.  They greeted us warmly with an Irish brogue; introductions were made all around; there was the usual small talk; and then we got down to business and delivered our request. They not only agreed to say Mass for the upcoming Sunday but for all the other Sundays we would be in Mokpo. 

Having accomplished our mission, we started to depart when one of the priests asked if they could have a moment of our time. They pointed out to us the hopeless condition of their jeepís engine and how it was pretty well done in, especially since they didnít have access to certain tools and parts, even though they had the expertise to fix it.  They went on to tell us how it was their only means of getting around to administer to the faithful and to get much needed supplies. I pretty much knew where this was heading, and was not surprised when they implored us to answer the divine calling and do the work of the Lord. They said their engine was still running but not for long. It had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. Now, if we would consider making a switch that only they, the Lord and we would know, and we most certainly would be amply blessed for our generosity. Besides, they pointed out, you have people on your ship that would have the wherewithal to repair the engine. Now, how could we resist the Gaelic blarney of these two sons of the sod con men?  

We all pitched in and switched engines. I will admit it did make me feel saintly as well as scounderly at the same time.  

We limped back to the ship, fortunately mostly downhill all the way, and proudly announced the success of our mission, albeit with a lump in our throat when telling of our engine problems. The Machinist Mates took a look at the engine and declared in words to the effect: Ď The difficult we do right away, the impossible takes a little longer.í As I recall, one of them peered at me with a look of skepticism, nodded his head approvingly, with a wry grin on his face.  

I figure if I ever have a chance of getting into heaven itíll be because of a forgivable misdeed of long ago in Mokpo, Korea when Harry and I pulled off the Great Engine Heist. 

Andy Bisaccia has contributed several  stories to the Whitehurst Web site:
Pusan Flashbacks is the most recent. Other stories by Andy: Escapades of Andy and Harry in Kyushu, The Day I Borrowed the Commandant's Limo, The Navy Way, The Great Engine Heist, Toothache, and a Great deal of material on "Jimmy" Pon Sun See, the Korean boy adopted by the Whitehurst crew in Pusan. You can learn more about Andy at this link.
Andy's Bio Sketch

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